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CNN This Morning

Graeme Wood is Interviewed about the Crow Interview; Nuggets Sweep Lakers; Janna Levin is Interviewed about the SpaceX Mission; Jeff Bezos Engaged. Aired 6:30-7a ET

Aired May 23, 2023 - 06:30   ET



SARA SIDNER, CNN ANCHOR: Stood out to me was this idea that like of course we're friends and we talk about work, which is true for most of us. We do talk, usually complain, about work to - to our friends and family.

But there is another layer here because Justice Thomas is a Supreme Court justice who could decide on cases that involve things that have to do with Crow. What was your take?

GRAEME WOOD, STAFF WRITER, "THE ATLANTIC": Yes, that's right, I mean these two are certainly old friends. And they've been friends since after Thomas got on the court, about 30 years. And the way Crow talks about it, you know, they're people of the same generation. They have some alignment in political views, I think, but most of the time when they talk, they talk about things like their shared love of Motown, he said. They talk about things that - that, you know, like the weather, sports.

What I think Crow has a hard time understanding is that this -- yes, this is a Supreme Court justice. And so, forget house transactions, you can't buy a drink for a Supreme Court justice without someone wondering exactly what the nature of this relationship is.

To Crow, clearly he thinks of it as just a friendship. To everybody else, there's a lot more suspicion that that relationship deserves.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: One of the things that I find striking, sort of as a thread throughout the piece, is that he really downplays his power. So, he denies talking to Crow at all about the law. He says to you, he has little power over the American political scene. He points to Trump as an example of that.

But a lot of this, by the way, happened way before Trump. And then has some hindsight that is 20/20 for him, right? Now he admits it looks kind of sketchy.

WOOD: Yes, or 2016 hindsight. I mean Harlan Crow is a GOP megadonor who has paid for think tanks that have been part of the intellectual architecture of the GOP.

HARLOW: Yes. WOOD: He's also very much anti-Trump. So, in 2016, when Donald Trump won, I think he kind of wondered, where did that -- all that money go if what he was trying to build was something that was not a Trump Republican Party and he had no power to stop Donald Trump from rising.

So, you know, you get people who are billionaires or near billionaires who think that they have bought power and then suddenly it doesn't go their way and they feel as powerless as the next person. Of course, the next person doesn't have Clarence Thomas on speed dial, doesn't have connections to politicians left and right. But I think what Harlan Crow told me for "The Atlantic" piece really shows what it feels like to be someone who feels like he's in charge for a while and then turns out not to be.

HARLOW: So interesting.

SIDNER: I want to ask you about Clarence Thomas' role and kind of what Crow thought about it. Thomas never reported that Crow bought this house for his mother. She could live in there rent free until the end of her life. How did Crow describe his feelings about that purchase to you?

WOOD: So, Crow thinks that he did nothing wrong with this purchase. Now, the details of this purchase are as follows. It's a small house in this area of Georgia that Clarence Thomas grew up in. And Crow has, over the years, paid for public library donations, donations to preserve the culture of the Golecgechi (ph) people, who are descendants of African slaves in that area. And he found that this house that Clarence Thomas had this association with, was still inhabited by Clarence Thomas' mother, who's 94 years old. And he bought it for what he says, Crow says, was fair market value, about $130,000. And the mother is 94 years old, so Crow, who, of course, you know, he's one of the largest real estate developers in the country, this is nothing to him. And he said, you know, I'll let a 94-year-old woman live there for the rest of her days and that will be -- have a negligible effect on the value of the transaction.

So, from his perspective, he was buying a house to preserve for -- as a historic site or museum for the life of his friend and in some ways one of his heroes, Clarence Thomas. And from the perspective of everyone else, he's writing a check to Clarence Thomas, who owned the house, and letting Clarence Thomas' mother live there for as long as she lives.

So, again, it's an example of where, from Crow's perspective, he's doing a nice thing. He's helping a friend. He's helping an American hero. And from everybody else's perspective, he's doing something that deserves the deepest scrutiny because it involves the integrity of the Supreme Court of the United States.

SIDNER: Which is being questioned in ways that it hasn't ever before. Here we are in 2023.

Thank you so much, Graeme Wood, for your reporting and for coming on the show. Appreciate it.

WOOD: Thanks for having me.

HARLOW: Well, a clean sweep. The Denver Nuggets knocked out the Lakers and they're headed to the NBA finals. And now, oh, this song.

SIDNER: Really? Really? Who's playing this song?

HARLOW: Oh. So now that LeBron James isn't going to the finals this year, what are his plans for next year?


Retirement? Maybe.


LEBRON JAMES, LOS ANGELES LAKERS FORWARD: We'll see what happens going forward. I don't know. I don't know.




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: James on the drive. Goes inside. Stopped. Shot blocked. Gets it back. It's over. It's over! Denver makes history. The Nuggets are going to the NBA finals for the first time in franchise history.


HARLOW: After 47 seasons, see, sometimes it takes more than three tries, the Denver Nuggets are headed to the NBA finals for the very first time. And congratulations to them. That news may be getting a little overshadowed by the fact that people are worried that LeBron James, the Lakers superstar, may retire.


Coy Wire has all the answers now.

Good morning, Coy.

What do you say?

COY WIRE, CNN SPORTS ANCHOR: Good morning to you.

Look, I think he still has some left in the tank.

Good morning, Poppy and Sara.

He just became the league's all-time leading scorer this year, passing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. He just put up 40 points in the western conference finals at 38-year-olds. A lot of 38-year-olds get winded just taking their groceries to the car. But he was very cryptic when talking about his future after putting up an incredible performance. Here's some of it.

He was on a mission. He dropped 31 of his game high 40 points in the first half. Seemed like everything was going in. Even passes. Aaron Gordon couldn't believe it. Most playoff points in a half in his career. Year 20 in the league. Unfathomable.

But, check this out. Gordon couldn't believe this either. He didn't steam do anything wrong and LeBron was just full of attitude. His Lakers take a 15-point lead into halftime. But the Nuggets two-time league MVP Nikola Jokic dropped in 30 points in this game, 14 rebounds, 13 assists. His eighth triple double of the playoffs. Breaks the great Wilt Chamberlin's record for the most in a post-season.

In the final seconds, LeBron had the chance to send it to overtime but Gordon gets the last laugh, blocking the shot. Denver completing the sweep 113-111. And LeBron gave an cryptic answer about his future after the game.


LEBRON JAMES, LOS ANGELES LAKERS FORWARD: We'll see what happens going forward. I don't know. I don't know. I got a lot to think about, to be honest. I've got a lot to think about, to be honest. And, just for me personally, going - going forward with the game of basketball. I've got a lot to think about.


WIRE: All right, the Nuggets, they have a lot to think about, too. They'll get the winner of the eastern conference finals where the Heat can sweep the Celtics with a win tonight. Tipoff, 8:30 p.m. Eastern on our sister channel TNT.

Poppy and Sara, I think it's important to remember about LeBron, just a couple weeks ago he said that his goal is still to play with his young -- his son Bronny, who just committed to play at USC.

HARLOW: Right.

WIRE: But we'll see. I know he's, again, 38. And that was a long, exhausting season. After the season, pro-athletes, they just want to decompress and not think about playing for a while.

SIDNER: Yes. I'm wondering, we were just chatting while you were talking, which is so rude, we're sorry, Coy.

HARLOW: We were also - it was -- we were listening.

SIDNER: We were listening, though, we promise. But we were chatting. It's like, you know, when you lose the game and you don't go forward, your reaction is, like, look, I've been doing this a long time. Like, maybe I'm going to - but you're not really in the mood to really think about it. You just want to like go sit down somewhere. So, maybe he sticks around.

HARLOW: I think it's good to make any big decision very slowly. SIDNER: Yes.

HARLOW: We're also talking, Coy, about like LeBron's next chapter is probably going to be more amazing even than his basketball, if that's possible, given all he's done for kids, his I PROMISE school. Like, he's got so much ahead that is great, regardless if he's on the court, don't you think.

SIDNER: He does

WIRE: One of the most impressive athletes in all time, not just in his - in his athletic career, but what he's done to uplift and inspire so many people around the world. And to your mention of the frustrations, Sara, you know, I mean he -- making it into the conference finals is not a big thing for him. When he doesn't make the finals, it's a travesty. He's made ten finals appearances in his career. That's more than 27 of the 30 NBA teams. So, yes, a very big letdown for LeBron. And a tough end to an incredible season for him.

HARLOW: Yes. But an incredible season indeed.

SIDNER: Truly.

HARLOW: Thank you, Coy.

SIDNER: Thank you, Coy.

WIRE: Uh-huh.

HARLOW: So Mars now. NASA's Mars rover has sent back some really amazing pictures of the red planet. What they're telling scientists.




UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And we have our first views of the Axiom crew members floating aboard. First is Commander Peggy Whitson rejoining the International Space Station.


SIDNER: Handshakes, hugs and high fives in low orbit. You're looking at the crew of a SpaceX capsule docking at the International Space Station. The crew, a decorated former NASA astronaut and three paying customers up there for a week. The mission called AX2 was put together by the Houston-based company Axiom Space. It marks the second all private mission to the orbiting outpost.

Meantime, it's being carried out by commercial companies rather than the government. And another historic moment here.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Big smiles from Rayyanah Barnawi. She is now the first female Saudi to go to space.


SIDNER: Barnawi, a stem cell researcher, said last week, and I'm quoting here, I am very honored to be representing all the dreams of all the people in Saudi Arabia and all the women back home.

Joining us now is astrophysicist, Janna Levin. She's a professor of physics and astronomy at Bernard College and the author of "Black Hole Survivor Guide."

That sounds scary.

You're seeing this crew -- it's a - it's a -- they're private astronauts, if you will - -dock with the space station. What was your reaction when you saw that moment where it worked, it happened?

JANNA LEVIN, ASTROPHYSICIST: It's always amazing. Space is hard. And space is dangerous. And it's always thrilling to see this very slow process. It took them two hours to bring - pressurize the vessel that they have to pass through. But it comes to this moment of these international communities meeting in space and collaborating together.

HARLOW: What -

LEVIN: It reminds us that we're bickering down on earth in a very silly way.

SIDNER: Right. It's the one place where we all have to get along, and we do.

LEVIN: That's right. And they certainly will, yes, to survive.

HARLOW: Right. They call it the overview effect, right, when you actually see the earth from space, it gives you a whole new perspective.


HARLOW: I'm just interested because the commercial space travel is becoming - I'm not going to say common, but like we're talking about it more, we see it more on the news, it's happening more.


HARLOW: What is the actual impact of that?

LEVIN: I do think part of this trip is a proof of concept, that it -- they want this to feel more familiar, these private agencies.


And the ultimate ambition is to build a commercial space station outside of the International Space Station, which is obviously a collusion of governments, but a commercial space station where we can begin to discuss passengers coming and going and even commerce in space. So, it's part of a very far vision.

HARLOW: Commerce in space.


HARLOW: Amazon in space.

LEVIN: Delivery.

SIDNER: I'm just thinking "The Jetsons" here. I'm sorry. That's where my brain goes.


SIDNER: One of the three customers is John Shoffner. He's an American who made his huge fortune in the international telecom business. Saudi Arabia also has two citizens there, Barnawi and Ali Alqarni, and - who's a fighter pilot with the Royal Saudi Air Force. They won't say how much -- because one person paid for themselves, and that was Shoffner. They won't say how much they're paying.

LEVIN: That's right.

SIDNER: Do you have any sense of what that might be?

LEVIN: Well, I believe it was $55 million for the Axiom 1 crew per -

HARLOW: The previous.

LEVIN: Right, the previous. And they aren't disclosing the price tag this time. But one can imagine it hasn't gone down.

HARLOW: Can we talk about Mars?

LEVIN: Yes, please.

HARLOW: Let's talk about Mars because my daughter comes home from school and talks about one day people will be on Mars.

LEVIN: So cute.

HARLOW: And it's so amazing to think, maybe, right, she's seven.

LEVIN: Yes. Yes.

HARLOW: NASA's Perseverance rover released these astonishing images. Video into a crater on Mars. The rover's Twitter account wrote this, zooming in on the Belva crater, places like this where nature has done the excavating for you, can be great for getting a look at exposed rocks under the surface. What are we learning from these images?

LEVIN: So, the crater that they're looking at, that you're seeing on screen, is about a half mile wide and it's probably from a meteorite impact. And it's within a much larger crater. Much, much larger crater. What they think is that there might have been a really active river or

really energetically flowing river. And that's incredibly exciting if that existed in Martian past because where there's water, there's live. And this is, of course, really not so subtly an exploration to see if there's evidence of microbial life from the past in Mars' history and maybe under the surface.

So, they are actually seeing kind of rivulets, waves, almost in sediment, like you might see in sand after water has been there for a while, and also moving these very enormous structures, that can be done with a very active river or water flow.

SIDNER: That is so cool.

HARLOW: So cool.

LEVIN: Can you imagine rivers actively flowing on Mars? It's really pretty amazing.

HARLOW: Oh, wow.


SIDNER: It's really cool.


SIDNER: One day -- one day we'll see it.


SIDNER: Janna Levin, thank you so much for being here.

LEVIN: Thanks so much for having me.

HARLOW: Speaking of Mars, and now volcanos. The most dangerous and active volcano in Mexico has roared back to life and is leaving a mess in surrounding neighborhoods. We'll show you new images this morning.

SIDNER: And wedding bells for a billionaire. What we're learning this morning about Jeff Bezos' plans to tie the knot.



HARLOW: Control room really knocking it out of the park with the music this morning.


HARLOW: I'm impressed.

And congrats to these folks. One of the world's richest people is getting married again. If you guessed Jeff Bezos, you're right. A source close to the couple tells CNN the Amazon founder is engaged to his long-time girlfriend Lauren Sanchez. They first went public with their relationship in 2019. No details yet on what items will be on the couple's Amazon wish list. I think they're covered.

Our entertainment reporter Chloe Melas has more.


CHLOE MELAS, CNN ENTERTAINMENT REPORTER (voice over): Billionaire Jeff Bezos is engaged. A source close to the couple says the Amazon founder and his partner, Lauren Sanchez, plan to tie the knot. Though no details about the proposal or any wedding plans have yet been made public.

Sanchez, a philanthropist and former award-winning journalist, and Bezos first revealed their relationship in 2019.

JEFF BEZOS, EXECUTIVE CHAIRMAN, AMAZON: Lauren is the most generous, most big-hearted person that you would ever meet.

MELAS: Last year, I interviewed the couple at their Washington, D.C., home for their first-ever joint interview, revealing details of their lives together that previously hadn't been shared by the private couple.

MELAS (on camera): I'd love to know, what does a typical Saturday night look like for Jeff and Lauren?

LAUREN SANCHEZ, PHILANTHROPIST: We can be kind of boring.

BEZOS: You're never boring.

SANCHEZ: (INAUDIBLE) look at me a little -

BEZOS: That's not true. I can be boring.

SANCHEZ: But it's - I mean -- it's really -- I would say normal, we have dinner with the kids. That's always fun.

MELAS (voice over): Bezos has four children from his previous marriage with McKenzie Scott. And Sanchez has three children from previous relationships.

SANCHEZ: There's seven between us. So, there's a lot of - a lot of discussion. And then we watch a movie. And with --

BEZOS: Typical Saturday night, probably a movie.

SANCHEZ: By committee. It takes a long time to find that movie, wouldn't you say?

BEZOS: Yes. We probably spend more time picking the movie than we need to, yes, that's (INAUDIBLE) -

SANCHEZ: But I think that's the fun part.

BEZOS: It's fun. MELAS: As the founder of space company Blue Origin, Bezos was aboard a

2021 flight into space and back on Blue Origin's New Shepherd rocket. Sanchez, also a helicopter pilot, said she's ready to head to space one day.

BEZOS: She wants to go.

SANCHEZ: I'm ready.

MELAS (on camera): Together?

SANCHEZ: No, he's already been.

BEZOS: We'll see. She -- I think she has some ideas about who she wants to go with. We'll see.

SANCHEZ: I think it will be a great group of females.

MELAS (voice over): A source familiar with the making of Bezos' mega yacht says the billionaire had a figurehead at the bow of the ship made in the likeness of the Norse goddess Freya with a striking resemblance to Sanchez. A grand gesture that may hint at a grand wedding to come.



MELAS: Well, listen, I mean, this is all everyone has been talking about.